Earlier today, Sir Robert Francis published his report on the ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ review.
The review was set up to look into how NHS organisations handle concerns raised by staff in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire enquiry which, in part, attributed poor patient care to a culture of NHS staff feeling unable to raise concerns. In his report, Sir Robert Francis recalls having heard ‘shocking accounts’ of the way in which NHS whistle-blowers were treated after speaking up about poor patient care and staff not reporting concerns for fear of not being listened to or victimised.
The review sets out a series of recommendations, including:
- a ‘Freedom to Speak Up’ guardian to be appointed in every NHS Trust;
- the appointment of a national independent officer to help oversee investigations and offer guidance on good practice;
- the creation of an NHS support scheme to help NHS staff who are no longer employed as a result of having raised concerns to find alternative employment within the NHS; and
- a Government review of the current legislation to consider extending discrimination protection to individuals seeking employment from being treated less favourably on account of being a ‘known whistle-blower’.
The review is a stark reminder for NHS employers of the need for clear procedures to be in place to investigate such concerns, and the need for staff to adhere to them. The review contains practical advice on how such cases should be handled, addressing issues such as the potential need for independent investigators and the need for practical support for staff who have raised concerns. The recommendations and guidance in the report, although not legally binding, will have a significant impact on whistleblowing in the NHS and how NHS employers investigate concerns.